Snitch (2013), directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Dark Skies (2013), directed by Scott Stewart

In the spirit of my recently implemented Tueday doubleheader nights at the cinema, I caught up with a couple of the big openings from last weekend.

And was I in for a night of lingering disappointment, let me tell you. But not without some highlights.

First up was Snitch, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first real attempt at “serious acting.”

Side note: Two of the trailers before this Rock movie were other Rock movies coming out shortly, the new G.I. Joe flick and the new Fast and Furious flick. At least Snitch isn’t a franchise Johnson has just been plugged into.

Snitch is something of a failure as the morality-based issue film that it tries to be, but it works rather well as an old-school one-man-against-a-bunch-of-badies low-key action film. Actually on that level it works surprisingly well.

There’s a number of reasons for that. For one thing, despite his physique and movie star status Johnson is rather good as the everyman caught in a bad situation. He plays it well. There’s a great scene early in the film where he tries to set-up some corner drug dealers and ends up getting his ass kicked. Not only is it refreshing to see The Rock get his ass kicked, it’s also enjoyable to see how well Johnson plays a vulnerable character. Turns out the man can act.

The film also works well as a believable, down-to-earth action movie. There’s no outrageous action sequences. At no point does Johnson hang from a helicopter or drive a car into a blimp or whatever. But there is a whole load of tension building to an excellent car versus semi chase sequence that is thrilling as hell while never seeming overblown or outrageous. It’s even filmed well, which is like finding the Rosetta Stone this day and age.

Where the film gets into trouble is as it tries to mean something. When Charles Bronson took out a bunch of street hoods in Death Wish you yelled “F-yeah Charles Bronson” because you hate criminals too and everybody is happy. In this film we’re supposed to be angry about minimum mandatory sentences for first time drug offenses, but I don’t see how getting the audience to root for Johnson taking out a bunch of hardcore drug dealers is supposed to garner sympathy for this.

Because regardless about my “real world” opinion on this issue, by the end of the movie I was firmly in the pro-justice, anti-drug dealer camp. So the last blurb about how unfair stiff sentences are didn’t exactly make my blood boil. All I thought is that if they keep Omar and Juan Obregon off the street then God bless them.

But if you can look past that, Snitch is a solid, well made thriller that’s actually highly enjoyable. Also Barry Pepper is in it. I always feel the need to point that out.

Dark Skies could have been a solid sci-fi/horror movie if again it wasn’t for some weird politics going on. Unfortunately that aspect is far harder to overlook with this one.

The movie is about a family that starts having strange things happen to them in their house. Familiar? Things bump in the night. Somehow their kitchen gets reorganized in a less-than-helpful way. The kid starts acting weird. Dad sets up video cameras to record everything going on in the house. Familiar?

The film is also from the same producers as Insidious and Sinister, so you know from the start how this is going to go down. Things will get creepy, they’ll escalate and then there will be a big, likely disappointing, finale. But those films, especially Sinister, were actually quite good. Dark Skies is less than great.

Dark Skies throws a slight curveball by having aliens in the mix. I liked the sci-fi aspect as something different. I also thought Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton were great leads. There are genuine scares in the film. I believe it has the basic elements of a potentially highly entertaining scare show.

But then it gets all weirdly right wing, family values, judgmental on us and totally lost me. Spoilers upcoming.

The finale of the film involves the family having to do their utmost to stay together as a family unit. On the Fourth of July. While Stars and Stripes Forever or something like that is playing on the TV. After buying a shotgun and boarding up the windows. And then what’s the reason that doesn’t work and a kid gets abducted? Because he watched a few minutes of a crappy porno earlier in the film.

I mean, if I’m going to get abducted I’m at least going to watch porn with good production values and better music. Just saying.

So while the buildup has some punch, the payoff falls completely flat because it’s ridiculous and preachy and, let’s just say it, a little xenophobic. I mean, I know these aren’t pleasant Mexicans just hoping for a little landscaping work, but the whole tone of the last act reeks of “board up yer windows and get yer guns cause them aliens are coming.”

You could have this payoff and not end up with this tone, but the whole Fourth of July thing sets an undeniable agenda. And it’s one that I’m not comfortable with.

And then the kid gets abducted because he watched pornography once. Just had to reiterate that. I hope it sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me. Let’s hope that’s not the aliens’ overall agenda or else the entire population of North America might soon find themselves abducted. Think about that the next time you logon. I guess one group of told-you-sos might remain. Maybe the makers of this film.

So two films that hit unfortunate road blocks, but I think Snitch at least made it through with only a misdemeanor ticket. It shouldn’t have to do any time, but I guess you never know with these mandatory minimums. Damn government. But Dark Skies deserves the slammer for tricking us into swallowing its us-versus-them, Holier-than-thou high-ground finale. For shame.

Snitch and Dark Skies are in cinemas now.

Broken City (2013), directed by Allen Hughes

Mama (2013), directed by Andres Muschietti

In my effort to save money and to see more movies at the same time I did a double-shot cheap Tuesday night at one of our local theatres here.

So I thought, why not write a double-shot cheap review? Do you feel frugal and smart? Or just cheated? Exactly.

Plus, what better way to review two mostly forgettable, mediocre movies that have absolutely no relation to one another? Exactly.

First up for the night was Mama, a Canadian-Spanish horror/ghost movie, “presented” by Guillermo del Toro and staring everybody’s new favourite actor, Jessica Chastain.

Now when I see that a horror film is “presented” by Guillermo del Toro I prepare myself for something a little different, likely quite gothic, with some elements of fantasy. I’m thinking Splice, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, The Orphanage (which I must admit, I have not seen).

Dead on (pun intended). While it has its share of conventional horror moments (weird noises in the house, faces in mirrors, “it was just a dream” moments), Mama also has enough creativity behind it that it not only comes across as scary, but also compelling.

It’s kind of a weird mix, to be honest. While on one hand there’s this really rather intriguing story of a (SPOILERS) long-dead escaped mental patient still searching for the baby she stole, and of two little girls she takes in and raises, there’s also this side where they have to visit an archive at some point, and consult an expert, and have the woman hear something weird and creep around the house until something scares her and us.

Some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The plot is far too complicated. Characters go off to do their own thing and are forgotten about for long periods of time. There’s so many agendas by so many characters it’s hard to care about all of them. Some of them are quickly tossed aside, making me wonder why they were needed in the first place. Some of the “gotcha!” scares are a little much and there’s too many of them.

But the ghost, the horror part of the film, is genuinely creative and well wrought. It’s all CGI but it works really well and the design of the ghost is rather unique and very effective. I had the old chill down the spine feeling on more than one occasion.

The gothic atmosphere also works well and gives the material a grandiosity modern horror films tend to reject (thank you Paranormal Activity). I mean, how many cliff-top ghost story finales do you see anymore? It lost me at the end with the butterfly finale and us somehow being asked to see it as a beautiful compromise that the ghost is going to drag a little girl away to death (presumably). Didn’t buy it.

But in general, Mama is a unique and well made ghost story.

Skipping merrily to the other end of the cinema, I sat down for Broken City just as it started.

Broken City was marketed as an action film, complete with hip-hop soundtrack, but it’s actually a political thriller, lots of talking with some occasional bits of action.

This one is getting panned, but you know what? I didn’t mind it. Sort of like Mama, I thought it was decidedly OK but with some definite positives (that’s my only way to tie these two films together).

You’ve got Wahlberg doing his Wahlberg thing (which I like), you’ve got Russell Crowe playing a character with a personality (which was a nice change from Les Miz), you’ve got BC boy Barry Pepper (if you want to see me embarrassed ask me about the time I met Barry Pepper) and you’ve got an urban political plot with ins and outs and backstabbings all round.

The Hughes Brothers have a way of making movies that under no reasonable reasoning should work, but that I can’t help but like. I still haven’t quite put my finger on why. I’m a From Hell fan. Now that’s out there in the world. I also thought The Book of Eli was an entirely decent movie.

I had the same reaction to Broken City. Nothing especially interesting was going on, but through competent directing and engaging performances it drew me in. I enjoyed watching it, wanted to know how it played out. That’s not what I would call a rave review, but maybe this is a case of exceeding low expectations.

(Huge Spoiler) The worst part for me was seeing Coach Taylor all shot up. It got personal at that point.

The film is not to be taken seriously. I don’t see it as an accurate representation of urban municipal politics or as a relevant voice against corrupt government. It doesn’t reach anything nearly that lofty. But as a political thriller with more than a few entertaining twists and turns, it works, to a point.

So there you go, my cheap Tuesday, cheap thrills, movie night. I’ll save intellectual musings for films worth it. If you want thoughtless entertainment, these are two viable options. Especially for half price.

Mama and Broken City are in cinemas now.